PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, May 11-17: Christopher Durang Collects Awards, Glass Menagerie Set for the Fall, 700 Sundays to Return

By Robert Simonson
17 May 2013

Shalita Grant and Kristine Nielsen
Shalita Grant and Kristine Nielsen
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

When Christopher Durang's comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike opened at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre last fall, it got respectful reviews—good, but not great—and enjoyed a healthy run. Durang could easily file the title as one of his successes, though not necessarily as a critical and popular smash.

Since the play transferred to Broadway in March, however, something has happened. Slowly and incrementally, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike had begun to look like the play of the season. It was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play—Durang's first such nomination in 35 years. This week it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Broadway Play and, more significantly, the New York Drama Critics Circle prize for Best Play.

Perhaps in reaction to these accolades, producers decided to extend the Broadway run—which stars Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce, and Kristine Nielsen (who's been getting her own share of nominations and awards) to July 28.

Lately, Broadway prognosticators have been opining that the Durang work is the front-runner for the Best Play Tony Award. That would be something. Stage comedies win the top prize in theatre as often as film comedies win the Oscar. That is to say, almost never. Recent past winners of the Tony have included weighty stuff such as Clybourne Park, God of Carnage, Red, August: Osage County, Doubt and The History Boys. Sure, there were things in those plays you could laugh at, but Vanya and Sonia… would be the first comedy to win the Best Play award since Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers in 1991 (and an argument could even be made that that play is more drama than comedy).



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It's been, why, almost two months since Broadway's seen a Tennessee Williams revival, so producers are going give us another one. It's The Glass Menagerie, which was last on Broadway way back in 2005 with Jessica Lange. This one will star Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto (Spock, to all you Trekkies out there) and Celia Keenan-Bolger. It will play the Booth Theatre beginning Sept. 5, with John Tiffany directing.

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Get ready to count the money.

Stage and screen star Billy Crystal has decided to return to Broadway this fall for a limited nine-week engagement of his Tony Award-winning play 700 Sundays.

The autobiographical 700 Sundays is remembered fondly by Broadway producers and movie stars entertaining Broadway ambitions as the gold standard for solo celebrity shows. This is not necessarily because it was so good (though it did get positive reviews), but because of the enormous mountains of moolah it raked in. It opened on Broadway in December 2004 and grossed $14 million during its six-month run. At the time, it set a Broadway record for the highest weekly grossing non-musical—$1,061,689 for the week ending May 22, 2005, according to the New York Times.

Previews will begin Nov. 5 at the Imperial Theatre with opening night scheduled for Nov. 13. Performances will continue through Jan. 5, 2014.

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Duncan Sheik

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, the men behind the smash musical Spring Awakeing, have gone big time for the premiere of their new stage venture, Arms On Fire. It will have its world premiere this summer at the prestigious Chester Theatre Company.

Wait, where?

Chester Theatre Company is the Berkshires-based summer theatre that isn't the Willaimsburg Theatre Festival or the Berkshire Theatre Festival. It was founded in 1990 in Chester, MA. The company that was once known as The Miniature Theatre of Chester seems to have grown up a bit since then.

Sater and Sheik previously workshopped the three-actor play with music at New York Stage & Film in 2010 under the title Umbrage. Work on Arms On Fire actually began back in 1999. It spawned their collaboration on the 2001 studio album "Phantom Moon." Much of the musical material on that album was penned for the play.

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Producer Jed Bernstein was named this week the next president of Lincoln Center.

Bernstein has had an interesting and unpredictable career. A former advertising executive, he first became known to the New York theatre community as the head of the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry. He ran it for 11 years until stepping down in 2006. He then morphed into a producer, bringing such productions as Passing Strange, Hair and Driving Miss Daisy to Broadway. In 2011, Bernstein helped revitalize the historic Bucks County Playhouse and now serves as the company's producing director.

Bernstein will take on his role at the prestigious arts complex in January 2014.

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Well, finally.

We all knew it was coming. But this week NBC got around to officially announcing that the Broadway-centric musical television series "Smash" was dunzo. It will end its run May 26.

Created by Broadway playwright Theresa Rebeck, and nurtured by producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, "Smash" premiered in February 2012, following a significant media build-up. Interest in the premiere was high, but reviews were mixed and quite quickly the show began its long descent into the rating basement. After a nine-month hiatus, "Smash" returned for its second season in early 2013, but without Rebeck and with new creative direction from showrunner and executive producer Joshua Safran. Nothing helped. The show limped through what would be its final year, watched avidly only by theatre insiders and fans. Very likely, television won't see another theatre-set series in a long, long time.